LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) -- A Jefferson Circuit Court judge on Tuesday dismissed a felony assault case after finding that a prosecutor “deliberately” and “improperly” withheld key evidence from a defense attorney.
Judge Audra Eckerle made what is an extremely rare finding of prosecutorial misconduct, ruling that Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Jamhal Woolridge hid medical records that could have helped prove the innocence of a defendant.
Defense attorney Rob Eggert on Tuesday asked Eckerle to rule that Woolridge had committed misconduct and dismiss the case against Enrique Sandoval, who was accused of assaulting another man in a 2013 bar fight.
Eggert claimed Woolridge removed medical records that showed the alleged victim had a drinking problem, which would have been a key part of Sandoval's self-defense argument.
The records were only turned over this week, when the trial was set to begin, after Eggert said he told the prosecutor he believed some medical documents were missing.
Woolridge then turned over 38 pages of medical records that had been removed without explanation, Eggert told the judge, according to a video of the hearing.
The records show the alleged victim had previously been to the hospital because he had punched a glass door and fell down while intoxicated.
In a short hearing Tuesday, Woolridge argued that the medical records were from a separate incident and were not relevant to the current case.
Woolridge also said that dismissing the case was too extreme a punishment.
But the judge ruled it was clear the information should have been turned over and that she had twice ordered all medical records to be given to the defense.
“This information was altered by the commonwealth and deliberately not disclosed and concealed from the defense,” Eckerle said.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Jeff Cooke, a spokesman for the office, said they disagreed with Eckerle's ruling and were looking at options on whether to try to push the case forward.
Cooke said "the fact that the judge rules against us doesn't change our position" that there was no misconduct and the older medical records were not relevant to the current case.
While the dismissal of a case for failing to turn over evidence is rare,defense attorneys have repeatedly made allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in recent years.
Most notably, the high-profile trial of accused murderer Dejuan Hammond fell apart in April 2014 after prosecutors failed to turn over key evidence -- a mistake Wine later admitted had been deliberate. A judge did not dismiss the case against Hammond and he was later convicted of murder.
In 2013, Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Barry Willett dismissed a receiving stolen property case, citing the prosecution's "outrageous conduct” in not turning over evidence.
Under state law, prosecutors are required to turn over any evidence that may be favorable to the defense. And the United States Supreme Court has ruled that hiding evidence favorable to the defense violates a defendant's constitutional right to due process.
Cooke said that while the office is reviewing the latest incident, Woolridge has not been disciplined as they believe he did nothing wrong.
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